Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness

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Mind Map created by Paul Foreman

(A Dhamma Talk by Ven. Sopako Bodhi Bhikkhu)

Edited by Cynthia Thatcher
[Note: the comments in brackets are the editor's.]

The dhamma talk tonight is on the four foundations of mindfulness. ‘Vipassana’ means to develop mindfulness until it becomes insight-knowledge [the realization of impermanence, unsatis- factoriness, and impersonality]. In order to get insight-knowledge you have to observe the four foundations of mindfulness. The foundations are four kinds of objects to put mindfulness on. It’s like a table – all four legs have to be stable before you can put something on the table.
Another example is the foundation of a building. Before constructing this meditation center, for instance, someone had to lay the foundation. They had to use materials like steel and concrete. Whether or not it’s a good foundation depends on whether the builder was smart enough to do the job right.

It’s the same thing with mindfulness. You have to lay the foundation first. The Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness [Satipatthana Sutta] says that we should use four kinds of material – four objects to lay the foundation for mindfulness. These four objects are: 1) body; 2) feeling; 3) consciousness; and 4) mental objects [the last group includes the five sense-impressions - colors, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches - which are material in nature]. Only when these four phenomena are known in the present, from moment-to-moment, can they be used as objects of mindfulness. When you develop mindfulness based on these foundations, wisdom will arise.

So these four kinds of objects are used to build wisdom – wisdom, as opposed to the pleasure or happiness that arises from strong concentration [wisdom leads to the supramundane happiness of nibbana. This happiness is more correctly expressed as the complete absence of suffering]. If you don’t have the correct foundation, wisdom can’t appear. It can’t grow.

All of us have the materials to lay the foundation already. I have a body and you have a body. We also have feeling. When you sit too long you have pain. When I sit too long I have pain, too. That’s feeling. Feeling doesn’t belong to anyone [in the ultimate sense, you do not own your feelings because they are not amenable to your control]. Feeling belongs to conditions, to the universe. Everyone has the same materials. Everyone has a body made of the same four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Everyone experiences the same feelings: unpleasant, pleasant and neutral. It doesn’t make any difference who you are.

We all have the same types of consciousness, too. For example, everyone has desire, hatred and delusion in the mind – everyone except arahants [those who have reached the highest level of enlightenment]. They have eliminated all mental defilements. Their minds are already pure, clean, and perfect. But those who aren’t enlightened – laypersons – all have the same impurities in the mind.

All of us experience the same emotions: sadness, anxiety, anger, excitement, confusion and doubt. Since everyone has the same materials, we know that these things belong to the universe, not to a nationality. They don’t belong to Thais or Canadians or Americans. The body belongs to the truth. Feeling belongs to the universe. Consciousness belongs to conditions. Mental objects and emotions belong to cause and effect.

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